Wasting away

Jelly fish have derailed our beach-going this summer, but on one of the few times we went, K was blessed to find a sand dollar. A perfect, perfect sand dollar. Even though I have lived near a beach for my entire life, I have never even found a broken sand dollar. She brought it home, a treasured possession. She took it for sharing. She left it on a side table afterward. I found it the other day under some books. Crushed.

Too bad I don't have a before picture

Too bad I don’t have a before picture

K took it in stride, vacantly staring at the sanddollar, but I pressed at her because I was crushed. That perfect sand dollar, broken apart. It was such a waste. Such a heartbreaking, ridiculous waste of something which might come along once in a lifetime. I hate waste. No: I fear waste.

This fear runs through my entire life. I’m chronically late because I can stand the idea of wasting those extra few minutes waiting (apparently it bothers me less to waste someone else’s minutes). My freezer is stuffed full because I will not waste a single morsel of food. Not that anyone wants to eat stale cake from K’s birthday or the last remaining triangle of quesadilla. Never mind that these foods aren’t even good for us to begin with. The thought of wasting them comes with a tightening panic in my chest.

This isn’t a thing. I googled it. No registered phobia of waste. But when thoroughly examined, a lot of my anxiety goes back to this fear. Even if I’m not going to eat the cake, it will lurk in the back of my mind, taunting me. I could use that bit of ribbon or coupon or cake. I’d better use it.

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a user-upper. I’m a maximizer. Even opportunities are loathed to be wasted. This is my chance to have a cinnamon roll–even if it doesn’t sound good. This is a great outfit–which is always saved instead of worn. On the surface this is smart, but I’m tired of feeling the pressure to make the most of every thing. This hardly seems to fit into living light or life abundant.

In fact, it seems more like I’ve made an idol out of my resourcefulness.

I realize that might sound like a dramatization, but anything that gets in the way of “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” is at best a stumbling block and at worst a brick wall.

Christ did not die on the cross so that we would continue to be trapped by walls, especially those of our own making. Christ died to set us free–free from our own crazy phobias, free from the world’s values, free from ourselves. Life abundant–a free life in Christ–begins not by looking back, not with regret or fear, but with joyful eyes finding Christ in each moment.

Yes, it’s dumping bits of cake and quesadilla from the freezer, but it’s also appreciating the blessings that were those meals, the blessings of letting go, the blessings of a clean freezer and fresh food. It’s the blessing of being on time and not stressed, of saying to my friend, you are important to me. I see Christ in these choices. I see myself in the former.

If you look closely at this broken bit of sand dollar, you can see the space where the creature once lived, the thin and fragile shell that protects it from the raging sea, the five tiny crests to which it clung. I pointed these out to K and her vacant expression melting into fascination. What was once a waste became a teaching opportunity, not only about the inner workings of a sand dollar, but also about seeing the opportunity for understanding Christ and His creations, for appreciating what each moment in life can teach us. That nothing is wasted when experienced with God’s joy.

My fear is far from cured. But I fear and trust God far more than anything else, even broken sand dollars and wasted quesadillas. I pray I have His eyes, that I may have His freedom as well.

The way, via the truth and the light

“There is a way that appears to be right,
    but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

In our school district, the kids get a week-long break in February knowns as “Ski Week.” We don’t ski, so for us it’s a blissful week without alarm clocks and lunch boxes and homework. I’m much more okay with this than snow and ice and fast approaching trees.

But I still look forward to any break with the kids, mostly because I miss them a lot when they’re not at home. I make plans, the center of which is our annual two-day trip to Disneyland. Except this year, B’s work schedule narrowed it to one day, and then an unexpected fever for the boy stole it completely. We returned home and I settled in for a very different vacation than I’d expected. And yes, I was bummed. Really bummed. Like on my knees in tears bummed.

God drew me to my bible study, where I read a really insightful quote from author Jen Hatmaker on the function of humility: “Humility is looking toward heaven through tears, through bone weariness, and thanking Him for the freedom that’s coming… Humility identifies every goodness God was able to work in spite of captivity, maybe because of it” (Tune In, pg. 134). It sounded like what I was feeling, but humility? What did this have to do with humility?

Except that I’m often making plans, sticking to plans, loathing changes to plans, and at the heart of the issue, I’m wanting my plans more than God’s. I want our trip to Disneyland. I don’t want to admit that there might be something better. And hence my problem with humility.

So I got on my knees, surrendered my pride and took up a cloak of humility, and then set to finding the goodness of our “captivity.” We played Upwords and Life and War. We discovered the music channels and danced. The kids took bubble baths in the middle of the afternoon and spent all day in their pajamas. All day. Canceled playdates led to a tent becoming a rocket ship and soda/mentos fountains and a post-dentist lunch made of ice cream. I am deliberately thankful for each of these things, because I know God asked me to trade them for a reason.

There is a way that seems right to us, but that’s only because we see about three inches ahead. Sometimes God calls us into the woods, in a direction away from the sunlight or the flowers or whatever it is that we see in those three inches, and we need to follow Him, because He can see the big picture (which could mean, for example, a sheer cliff on the other side of those flowers). Not only that, but we need to follow with humility, because blinded by pride fail to see the goodness He has waiting for us. There is always goodness, whether we choose to see it or not.

Girl magic

A few weeks ago K and I went for an afternoon with her friends, starting with a princess-themed tea party and ending with a performance of Disney on Ice. It was not the most stellar afternoon. We stumbled over the directions to our friend’s house, the lunch options, the seating options. There was drama between the little girls about who was playing what with whom, and who would drive together to the event. There were pit stops for more money, more food, more water. As much as it was intended to be magical, it ended up muddled instead.

In exchange, B took M to a Sn Diego Sockers game last night. While the boys were gone, K and I launched into a series of girl-themed activities (don’t worry, I reminded her that lots of boys might enjoy and do the things we did, they just weren’t the boys we lived with). After changing into pajamas, I got all my nail supplies and walked her through a manicure, where we both ended up with pink and purple glitter nails. Then we curled up on the couch with a Barbie movie (yes, it was that bad). But her little head resting on my shoulder makes just about anything perfect. Halfway through she whispered to me, very grown-up like, “You getting a little hungry?” “A little. You?” “A little.” So I made us a plate of nachos to share–food that, again, our boys don’t like. After the movie came dancing. Pillow fighting. Chasing through the house. More cuddling. Reading. Love.

Truth is, I’m not a dancing/pillow fighting/glitter nail kind of girl, and some of those things the boys would have liked sharing in very much. But those activities were ours that night, because we made them so. How different from an event that cost five times as much but was complicated by five other pairs of moms and daughters.

K repeated, no fewer than five times, one of the most meaningful phrases I’ve ever heard: “This is the best day of my entire life.”

Ministering to each other doesn’t have to involve lots of money or even time (no matter what she said, it was less than four hours of a fourteen hour day). Ministering involves loving others, meeting them where they are, taking interest in what they love and sharing it with them. This is a life both abundant and light, because it is rooted in love.

The best, though not always most comfortable

Policy, that is. Which is honesty. I’m big on honesty, which is why even my less-close acquaintances often know about my many faults. This one I bared in honor of my dear friend, Heather, whose notion of little yeses has changed my whole perspective on possibility. Check out my confession here, and then stick around Heather’s blog for the much more interesting story of how she’s moved her young family to Argentina for a season. Kind of makes eating an Oreo sound very boring-American, but we are what we are, and we can’t all be amazing in the very same ways. Maybe I’m just amazingly honest.

Saving the day

Juggling the schedules of two school kids is a challenge. Most of the time I’m able to balance it well, with one activity per afternoon, plus time for homework and free play. Most of the time. But occasionally things don’t work out quite so smoothly. For a while at the beginning of the school year, we had “super crazy Thursday afternoon.” Instead of going home and detoxing for a bit, we had both gymnastics and soccer shortly after school ended, which meant no going home in between. Just the thought of it made me cringe. I prayed: please let this work! I offered it up to God, knowing that it was a lot to ask for two kids late in the week.

And it ended up that “super crazy Thursday afternoon” wasn’t so super crazy after all. For the month that the schedule lasted until I was able to get K into a different gym class, Thursday afternoon was one of my favorites. We’d go to the park. I’d sit in the sun. They’d ride their bikes and we’d share snacks and talk about our days. We enjoyed the weather, the air, the forced break.

Our schedules have shifted now, and it wouldn’t be the same anyway, not with the cooler weather upon us. But when I think back on those afternoons, spending time with my two once-babies who had so much to tell me, I realize how important it is to turn each situation over the God.

“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!'” (Psalm 70:4)

I sought the Lord for that saving help, and rejoiced because of it. Even when I was stressed at the very thought. Even when I thought there was no saving those afternoons. A life abundant is about giving all those moments to the Lord, even the ones we doubt, and rejoicing in them. Indeed, the Lord is great, not just because He saved those afternoons, but because He gave me cause to trust in praying first (instead of stressing) in the future.

Florida 2012

 Jet lag notwithstanding, we are back from eight days in Florida. Yes, Florida. In August. Because it’s cheap. Though we might have spent our savings on ice cream. Here are the highlights, in no particular order:

Hogsmeade: our home away from home.

1) The amusement parks. We did not do Disney, as everyone expects. Instead we did Universal, mostly because Universal’s Islands of Adventure includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We spent more time in Hogsmeade than we did at the hotel, which also meant we had to summon fresh enthusiasm for another trip through Olivander’s, another ride on Flight of the Hippogriff, etc. Summoning such enthusiasm was surprisingly easy, because the kids had so much fun, even with the heat and crowds and occasional rainouts. Worn out wizards decompressed at the Dr. Seuss water play area while grown ups lounged in the shade. Favorite part? Raiding Honeyduke’s–Hogsmeade’s candy store–and then working through butterbeer, a chocolate frog, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans with the gusto of a Gryffindor. Might not have been K’s favorite part, seeing as she had beans of pepper, soap, dirt, and tomato all in a row. No, not tomato. Vomit. Praise Jesus she didn’t know the difference.

A wall of water, just about to hit K. That’s just the way we roll.

2) The water park. Between my germaphobia, aversion to cold water, and complete distaste for submersion, water parks are not my thing. But there was something amazing in watching M assess a large water slide, then tackle it anyway. He was fearless, and I was impressed. And besides, there’s something truly relaxing about spending an hour floating down a lazy river, watching the kids climb in and out of their inner tubes, floating faster to be chased down, leaning back to flip over. It was also truly something different, which in itself is a novelty. We did not, however, try the wakeboarding. Great value at $12 per day, as long as you don’t ingest the fatal amoeba in the water (true story). Memories are fantastic, but every germaphobe has her limits.

Winter, the tail-less dolphin. Can’t see her? Don’t worry, neither could we.

3) The beach. Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, St. Pete’s. AKA paradise, especially after sharing a small room amid the hustle and bustle of Orlando. We opened the door to our condo and everyone seemed to spread like oil hit by soap. Space! Space for the kids to play, space for the adults to read, space to do whatever we wanted in our own little bubbles. It seems antithetical to a family vacation, but in fact the space worked as an antidote to the nerves close quarters can fray. The water was bath-warm and shallow for-nearly-ever, home to dolphins and crabs and one very confused mussel. Plus there was a fantastic soft serve and shake place right in front of the hotel. And yes, we had both.

4) The Olympics. I know: the Olympics are in London. I’ve never been much of an Olympics fan, and if we’d been home, I might have ignored them entirely, especially seeing as they are being replayed most extensively in primetime when the kids would normally be asleep. But in Florida, working on California time, we turned them on almost every night. The four of us, worn out from a long day, would collapse on the couch, sweetly smooshed together, and watch whatever sport we happened upon. We’d explain the rules and admire the different athletes’ abilities. We’d ooh and ahh. We’d get pjs and brush teeth during commercials. It was the most simple, quiet, quality time we got on the whole trip, a surprising gift and one I’d have missed if we hadn’t gone. I’ll never look at the Olympics the same again.

Beach fun. Don’t adjust your eyes. The camera just steams up in the humidity.

So that’s it. Alright, there were some bad moments, too. Every vacation has them. For the last two days K kept asking for a day off, and you can only substitute ice cream for dinner so many time before someone melts down. But for the most part, it was a true departure from the norm, and surprisingly successful. And there were lots of little good moments as well, like mini golfing and feeding alligators and watching the Peabody duck march. Most satisfyingly, we were all ready to come home. Okay, it would be better to have come home without having to go back to work, but someone has to pay for all those memories.